Visioning Pitney Meadows in 2056
"Strategic visioning is a powerful process that assists us in creating a picture of an ideal future. A vision is a dream, personally created, of how we would like our world to be. In sharing our visions we find common ground and a sense of connection. We come up with a compelling way to describe our organization and where we're going."
That's James Kerr, global chair of culture practice for Massachusetts-based management consulting firm N2Growth.
"If you’re not already 'hip' to the concept," he writes, "a vision story replaces the tired and listless vision statements of the recent past ... Vision stories explain what a business is–describing its customers, products, staff in vibrant detail. Complex concepts like 'how' products and services are delivered to the marketplace are vividly styled in the story so to engage and inform."
Kerr describes the vision story as a "utopian dream" that communicates what your organization believes are the "ideal conditions for your community" – how things would look "if the issues important to you were perfectly addressed."
By developing a vision statement, he continues, "your organization makes the beliefs and governing principles of your organization clear to the greater community, as well as to your own staff, participants, and volunteers."
Which led us to wonder: What would a strategic vision story for Pitney Meadows look like?
A group representing the Pitney Meadows Board of Directors and Strategic Planning Committee recently sat down to take a stab at this. Looking out 40 years, we brainstormed the enterprise we want to leave to our children and grandchildren, an exercise that brought us back to a list of potential uses we submitted to the Saratoga Springs Planning Board last winter in our application for an 11.5-acre "planned unit development" (PUD) on the property's "triangle":
- Community Gardens
- Eating and Drinking Establishment
- Inn/Bed & Breakfast
- Locally Grown Food Processing
- Open Air Markets
- Farm Store: Agricultural and Agri-Related Products
- Sugar Shack
- Outdoor Entertainment
- Annual Special Events
- Keeping of Livestock
We also explored potential uses for the 100 acres of tillable land that dominates the view shed we enjoy when driving along West Avenue and the 37 acres of woodlands and wetlands that lies to the east of the railroad tracks that have divided the property since the 1950s.
IMPACT OF CLIMATE CHANGE
Climate change is not something that's coming. It's already here.
"Patterns familiar to residents since recordkeeping began, including the arrival of the seasons, duration of snow cover, and timing of lake and river ice breakup, have been broken and new trends have begun to emerge," reports the Union of Concerned Scientists in this 2006 study, which charts the implications for the Northeast of two different pathways: one if the world is able to substantially reduce carbon emissions, the other if we're not.
If we follow this latter path, peer-reviewed research conducted with state-of-the-art climate models indicate that the climate we experience here in the Northeast in 2100 will feel the same as the climate experienced by South Carolinians today as average temperatures soar by as much as seven to 12 degrees F. By 2056, we'll be experiencing the climate that North Carolinians experience today. Humidity also will sharply increase and so our hottest summer days may feel as much as 20 degrees warmer than our hottest days today.
Spring will arrive two days earlier with each decade that passes. Short droughts can be expected every year by the end of the century, and long droughts could triple to every six or ten years, Extreme weather events -- such as hurricanes, tropical storms, and hail storms -- also will become more and more frequent.
What implications do these trends have for Pitney Meadows?
The crops we're growing in Upstate New York already differ from those we grew 20 years ago, said Sandy Arnold. "For example, sweet potatoes thrive today, whereas no one even tried to grow them in the 1990s." And some Northeastern farmers already are growing figs. Forty years from now, that probably will be common, said Michael Kilpatrick.
One thing's for sure, KIlpatrick said: "We're going to have a lot of high tunnels, both to extend the winter growing season and to protect crops from the ravages of extreme weather. You can control everything. You don't have to worry about the weather."
Considering the enormous impact that climate change is going to have globally on agricultural, Barbara Glaser raised these questions: "Do we have sufficient acreage to be able to adapt to climate change? And can we be a demonstration site that shows how farms will have to adapt to the changing climate?"
Kim London, chair of the Strategic Planning Committee, found our discussion about climate change to be one the most "tangible and important" take-aways from this visioning exercise. Here are two questions she suggests we explore with stakeholders:
- How will climate change affect our farming practices?
- Can Pitney Meadows play a role -- through in research and education -- in helping farmers in our area adjust to changing climate and more resilient in a changing economy?
- As Saratoga Springs and our surrounding area become increasingly developed, how can we ensure that current and future generations maintain a close connection to food and nature?
HOW BIG WILL PITNEY MEADOWS BE?
As a first step in strategic visioning, James Kerr suggests focusing on the organization's size as measured both in revenues and employees. "Let a strong statement of the financial goal frame the vision story," he writes. "People want to know the size of the company that they will be part of down-the-road...It's important to people to identify with the size and goals of the firms for which they work."
How big will Pitney Meadows be in 40 years? There's much we can learn by studying other community farms, such as Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, which probably employs 50 to 70 in its farm and educational programs and another 100 in its fabled farm-to-table restaurant, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Michael Kilpatrick estimates.
"But it really depends on our programming," he continued. "If we develop a substantial farm school and a wide array of educational programs for kids and adults, a farm hub and processing center, a farm store that's open seven days a week, a large year-round meeting and event space, and a farm-to-table restaurant, we might have as many as 300 to 500 people on our payroll," he says. "We're going to be running multiple businesses that we may be able to scale up to $10 million in revenues annually in 40 years."
Rather than farming the entire 100-acre main field ourselves, Kilpatrick sees part of it being farmed by students in our farm school and the rest by farmers who pay annual rents we keep low to ensure that their operations are economically viable. Rental fees paid by corporations for use of our large, year-round meeting space -- beautifully landscaped and offering vistas of our grounds -- may be among our major revenue sources.
"Farm education also will be an important source of revenue, but it won't be a huge money-maker unless we decide to become an accredited wing of, say, SUNY Adirondack," he says. "If we're accredited, we could start charging for credit hours. But if we just maintain a farm education school -- which is where our vision has mostly been -- then we won't bring in as much money as we otherwise might."
As for a farm-to-table restaurant, Kilpatrick thinks we have a great location but "I don't see us running it."
"I think it would be incredibly valuable to have a restaurant on the site, but that's not our main purpose. We would get rent, but I don't think this would be a massive income generator."
Kim London agrees. "Six months of the year, our fields are beautiful to look out on. But they're not as beautiful in January. On the west side of the city, there aren't many competing restaurants and we're seeing a lot of new development. That's good. But we'll have seasonality, both in our event business and in the restaurant."
FARMERS AND FARMER TRAINING
While technology is rapidly changing agriculture, Kilpatrick is confident "farming will still happen and we'll still be growing in the soil" in 40 years. Moreover, "farmer training will still be incredibly important."
"By 2056, we'll probably have 3D holographic images in our living room, so it's likely that much of our training won't necessarily be done on the farm, but I think hands-on training will still be very important."
Despite rising demand for dairy products, the number of cows on Capital Region dairy farms declined by 17,500 between 2002 and 2012 and many smaller dairy farms went out of business. That trend is likely to continue and will open up small farmland, believes Barbara Glaser. "If that's the case, Pitney Meadows can be the place where young people can take up farming for three to five years and then, through cooperation with local land trusts, acquire these smaller properties to operate as their own farms.
"So here's what I'd like to see," she continues. "We have a series of fields that demonstrate alternative alternative approaches to agriculture. On one three-to-five acre parcel, we have a permaculture demonstration. On another we demonstrate hydroponics. On another we have aquaponics. Let's have as many as eight different models of agriculture where young people can come in, learn about it, experiment, and compare the production of crops by each method. Let people choose the model they want, and let them lease up to five acres with the idea that they can later sign a long-term lease or, working with our regional land trusts, get a piece of land of their own."
Such an initiative would be something like a six-month apprentice program offered by the University of California Santa Cruz which teaches three approaches to farming, noted London.
"I think you're on to something," said Kilpatrick. "What I keep hearing is that we have all of these different models out there, but no one is showing the real numbers behind them. The problem is that -- if you have eight different models -- you'll probably need to have eight people managing them. It really makes sense to have one person devoted to one model, so that they can really devote their effort to that. This would take a lot of fundraising, but no one's really doing it. This could be where our distinctive advantage comes in."
"I'm torn between modeling alternative agriculture and being a place where people can still connect with the land," Glaser said. "Open space in Saratoga County is disappearing at a rapid rate. I think organizations like Saratoga PLAN with its trails and Pitney Meadows with the farm are going to be incredibly important if we maintain our connection with peoples' experience of place. Forty years from now, people are going to be longing more than ever to have some connection with the earth and with each other."
THE IMPORTANCE OF A CSA
Most of the dozen or so community farms visited by members of the Strategic Planning Committee offer their communities CSAs. "I like the whole idea of the CSA," said Jim Gold. "It's not something that's going to go away."
Barbara Glaser said she'd like to see a CSA that partners with local restaurants. "If someone wants their own herbs, for example, they'll be able to get them."
Susan Knapp reminded the group that we need to stay focused on activities that are going to bring people -- "lots of people" -- to the farm. "It's the 'you-pick' things -- such as berries, herbs, cherry tomatoes, beans and things you can't easily find locally that are going to make Pitney Meadows a destination."
This is a big category that in our first year included such events as our Fire Feast on the Farm, Pitney Meadows Art Exhibit, Founding Patrons Celebration, and Family Fun Day. What's this list likely to look like in 2056? All agreed we should strive to complement, not compete with, whatever summer lineup the Saratoga Performing Arts Center comes up with, joining the city's larger "ecology" of summer entertainment.
"Since we're right next to SPAC, that could be a big bonus for those who might want to host a dinner on the farm prior to a SPAC event," said Michael Kilpatrick. With parking at such a premium downtown during the summer, the easy availability of parking offered on the farm would be a big plus.
Others suggested we might build a bandshell or ampitheater to host a weekly concert series similar to what Burlington-based Intervale Farm offers in its Summervale series. Or, taking a page from Millsaps Farm in Springfield, Missouri, how about we launch the Pitney Meadows Thursday Night Pizza Club?
A full edited transcript of the discussion that took place November 27, 2017 can be found here. Participants included:
- Kim London, Chair
- Barbara Glaser
- Michael Kilpatrick
- Sandy Arnold
- Jim Gold
- Susan Knapp
- Robert Arnold
- Dan Forbush